Remote sensing is the process of detecting and monitoring the physical characteristics of an area by measuring its reflected and emitted radiation at a distance from the targeted area. Special cameras collect remotely sensed imagesof the Earth, which help researchers “sense” things about the Earth.

Global change research poses significant challenges to the scientific community. Physical and biological scientists (together referred to as natural scientists) have grappled with the challenges of data requirements for a decade or more and have identified the utility of satellite remote sensors as major sources of consistent, continuous data for atmospheric, ocean, and land studies at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. An extensive body of literature within numerous natural science disciplines documents the development of, or potential for, satellite sensor data analysis techniques to identify environmental attributes and monitor physical and biological processes relevant to global change research.

Satellite sensor data have proven useful to the atmospheric and ocean sciences communities. While social scientists may have little involvement in the scientific study of the biological, physical, and chemical processes being addressed within these communities, human dimensions interests are associated with the causes of the perturbations to atmospheric and ocean systems being studied and in the resultant health and socioeconomic effects on humans. In “The Use of Satellites to Monitor Global Transmission of Microbes,” Simmer and Volz (1993) address the effects of atmospheric dispersion of disease on human health by discussing the use of satellite sensors for monitoring terrestrial and atmospheric parameters relevant to microbial spread and transmission. In “Health and Climate Change: Marine Ecosystems,”Epstein, Ford, and Colwell (1993) discuss the human health implications associated with the degradation of marine ecosystems due to pollution and global warming. The CIESIN Thematic Guide on Human Health and Global Environmental Change provides information on use of remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) in Programs for Surveillance, Treatment, and Control of Vector-borne Diseases. Clark (1993) reviews the applications of satellite sensor data to a wide range of marine pollution problems in “Satellite Remote Sensing of Marine Pollution.”

Some specific uses of remotely sensed images of the Earth include:

  • Large forest fires can be mapped from space, allowing rangers to see a much larger area than from the ground.
  • Tracking clouds to help predict the weather or watch erupting volcanos, and help watch for dust storms.
  • Tracking the growth of a city and changes in farmland or forests over several years or even decades.
  • Mapping the ocean bottom – Discovery and mapping of the rugged topography of the ocean floor (e.g., huge mountain ranges, deep canyons, and the “magnetic striping” on the ocean floor).


by: Ammara Siddique